Attempt to silence human rights defenders

Early Sunday evening, 9 December, on the eve of Human Rights Day, the server supporting the websites of the human rights organizations Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG), the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU), and the “Maidan” website, was subjected to an intensive DDOS [Distributed Denial of Service] assault which is still continuing.

This is a notorious form of closing access to a website or sites by effectively inundating it with a huge number of requests. The sites are overloaded and do not therefore open when Internet users try to access them

Since the attack came just before the announcement in Kyiv at a press conference of the Thistle of the Year Anti-Awards for most persistent human rights violators in 2007, certain unkind thoughts at first seemed warranted. 

However, the scale of the attack, as well as many other ominous parallels with other recent onslaughts on human rights websites, forces us to seriously consider other possible explanations. 

During a mere 20 minutes, from 22.30 to 22.50 on 10 December, the besieged server was bombarded with more than 150 thousand requests.  This level of attack and the cost involved preclude its being the work of amateur hackers, as does the fact that the attack is still not abating. 

  As of 12 December there is access to the sites, however it would be premature to believe that the onslaught has ended, since yesterday such periods of access were followed by renewed attacks.  Our investigations give grounds for believing that the attack has been organized from Russia and is being controlled in response to what we do.  Attempts to deflect the barrage work for a while until the assailants understand what is being attempted and retarget their attack accordingly.

  We are clearly considering why we have been considered so worthy of considerable and costly attention. 

Two of the websites involved –  and had literally over the last week posted articles in both Russian and English regarding the illegal expulsion from Russia to Uzbekistan of an Uzbek Abdugani Kamaliyev (Tursinov) more than 24 hours after the European Court of Human Rights had applied Rule 39 haling the expulsion.  The last article was published on both sites in Russian on Saturday 8 December.

Just over a month ago, the main Russian website came under a virtually identical attack and was incapacitated for ten days and forced to use another site.  Both KHPG and “Maidan” carried information in both Russian and English about the attack.  It should be mentioned (as we did, repeatedly!) that this was by no means the first such attack in Russia.  We specifically mentioned the attempt to paralyze the “Memorial” website.

We stressed the need to fight such obvious attempts to stifle the voice of conscience in Russia and neighbouring countries, and the need to show solidarity.

We are very grateful for the enormous help and support which HRO are giving us at the present time.

We are even more convinced that we must all be united in this and support one another.

It is possible that those who ordered such an attack found humour in aiming it at Human Rights Day. 

In fact, however, the event which this day commemorates, the signing and affirmation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, serves as a perfect reminder of all that would be at risk if we give in to such attempts to stifle and intimidate us.

It reminds us also that we need to stand together on this – we have no plans to surrender.

For your freedom and ours.

Halya Coynash, Yevhen Zakharov

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

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